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Life Beyond the Law

A Historical & Special Collections exhibit exploring student life outside the Harvard Law School classroom.


Law students have often found pleasure in quiet amusements like card games and chess. Some of the games that students refer to in the letters and diaries displayed in this exhibit are now uncommon. Euchre, whist, and marbles, for instance, are unlikely to be played by students in 2014. Albert Burt (LL.B. 1914) wrote home to his brother Farlow in March 1912 about the particular rules and quirks of the games of marbles he observed other students playing. After digging “a little hole about 3 inches in diameter and an inch and a half deep in the middle,” he wrote, the players would “get off about six (real) feet and roll marbles to make them stay inside the hole.” Burt reflected that this may seem easy, but to roll two, three, or four marbles into the hole at once is difficult. Unlike the games of marbles in which players could win and keep other players’ marbles, in this game, Burt wrote, “I couldn’t see that there was any ‘keeps’ in it at all.” Though playing marbles may not be common anymore, it is likely that certain games—chess and billiards among them—still have their devotees.

Students Playing Games

undated photograph of students pitching penniesStudents Pitching Pennies, n.d.; Gelatin silver print, 13.5 x 12.7 cm.; Photographs of HLS Students, Box 2, Folder 8

1982 photograph of student trivia contest HLS Dorm Council trivia contest finals, 1981; Ben Littauer, photographer; Gelatin silver print, 12.6 x 20.5 cm.; Photographs of HLS Students, Box 2, Folder 8


“After three years of trying to read professors’ minds,” a Record article said in a recap of Vegas Night in 1994, “3Ls got an opportunity to show off their poker faces at ‘Vegas Night with the Profs.’” Events such as these, and many of those listed on the Black History Month and Women’s History Month event calendars shown in the Parties and Social Gatherings tab, remind us that social life and academic life are not mutually exclusive.

image of flyer for 1994 Vegas Night’94 Vegas Night Flyer; 1994; Harvard Law School Ephemera Collection

Poker players past and present may do well to remember the words of former student John Vanmeter (LL.B. 1857), as recorded in his diary while kept during his time as a law student. Vanmeter spent much of his free time playing cards, chess, and billiards, which he often reports winning, and, less frequently, euchre, which he dismissively deemed “a complete waste of time and of no interest to me.” Vanmeter seems to have spent relatively more time playing games than the other students highlighted in this exhibit, which is perhaps why he took a moment to chastise himself in his diary for days “spent too much like some of my Saturdays, while at college. It will not do; for greatness never grew upon a card table.”